The cost of adding carbon credits to clean water

By Shiney Varghese

, by Pambazuka

This article is part of a special issue on water and water privatisation in Africa produced as a joint initiative of the Transnational Institute, Ritimo and Pambazuka News. This special issue is also being published in French.

Linking carbon credits to clean water initiatives as a means of reducing carbon emissions is simply a corporate effort to cash in on measures to tackle climate change, writes Shiney Varghese.

In a recent New York Times (NYT) opinion piece ‘Clean water at no cost? Just add carbon credits’, Tina Rosenberg argued that one of the best ways to ensure that the world’s poorest have access to water is through carbon trading. Having spent ‘more than two decades reporting on social problems around the world, and where possible, exploring new models to address them,’ in October 2010, Rosenberg and David Bornstein began a series entitled Fixes that proposes to help spread knowledge about solutions (or potential solutions) to real-world problems, and how they work.

But in this case, her solution rests on a simplistic understanding of the two central issues: the water crisis and carbon trading. There are many reasons for the water crisis and the large numbers of water-poor, and working through them is like peeling the layers of an onion. The most apparent reason for not having access to safe water is the lack of public financing to build a water infrastructure. So, for a while, multinational-led water privatisation was promoted as the solution, with these companies leveraging the financing for building and maintaining the water infrastructure. However, as the article acknowledges, ‘for-profit water multinationals such as Bechtel and Suez’ have been critiqued ‘for the way they treat rural people and slum dwellers’.

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